As promised, my column about “New Evangelicals” has been published. Here’s a snippet, and you can follow the link below to read the rest at Patheos.

Last weekend my wife and I attended a young adult Bible study at our new church. We recently moved back to Boston from New York City and, for the first time in all of our moves (and there have been plenty) we found a church on our first try. There was no church shopping or denomination hopping. We went straight for the nearest Episcopal church, St. James’ Church in Cambridge.

We had been flirting with the Episcopal Church for years. First, when we were newly married we joined many of our friends, fellow Gordon College graduates, at the local parish, Christ Church in South Hamilton. Upon moving to New York City, however, we had to start from scratch. Some close friends recommended Redeemer Presbyterian Church. We had never heard of NYC’s most popular church (at least in evangelical circles), and naively assumed that since our friends were close with the Kellers, it would be a small community that we’d easily engage. We were wrong. In the end, Redeemer was too big, too corporate, too Presbyterian.

We tried a few other places, a Redeemer plant in the Village, another church on the Upper West Side, until finally we found our church home right in our own neighborhood, Grace Van Vorst, an Episcopal church in downtown Jersey City. There, as at our new church home in Cambridge, we met plenty of young people that shared our story—tentative converts from evangelical churches, disillusioned by the way their religious identity had been hijacked by the political right.

This is a familiar narrative that doesn’t bear retelling here. What is significant, however, is the way it seems to be happening again. That is, those of us who left evangelicalism—and, according to recent Pew surveys there are plenty of us—find ourselves the objects of a process to be reabsorbed into evangelicalism. It’s been happening since at least 2007, in the run-up to the presidential election in 2008. Faced with the apparent splintering of young people from the evangelicalism of our parents’ generations, attempts were made to reassign us as members of a “new evangelicalism.” The problem was, we didn’t call ourselves evangelicals…

Read the rest at Patheos.

 
About The Author

Jonathan D. Fitzgerald

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0 Responses to New Evangelicals, Old News

  1. Scott says:

    “There, as at our new church home in Cambridge, we met plenty of young people that shared our story—tentative converts from evangelical churches, disillusioned by the way their religious identity had been hijacked by the political right.

    I’m confused, as I was when you wrote the last piece on this. Are you saying that you are disillusioned because “evangelical” has come to have a certain pejorative connotation in popular culture? Or is it that you feel that the religious right has hijacked the “evangelical” denominations?

    • The first one…kind of. The popular perception of “evangelical” has come to be synonymous with the religious right. For this I blame both the media, who used “evangelical” as shortspeak for religious right, and the right itself, which seized on their new found broader categorization.

      • Scott says:

        Thanks for the answer. I have a follow-up of sorts. Does this mean that you have just quit calling yourself “evangelical” so people don’t think you voted for Bush, or have you actually quit going to churches that are called or call themselves “evangelical,” OR have you quit believing what evangelicals believe because of all this?

        I had a hard time with your article, obviously. Much like you may have had a hard time with my awful run-on sentence in my opening paragraph.

        Anyway, do you find your Christian beliefs to be more “in line” with non-evangelical churches, or is it simply easier to get along in your day-to-day life with cool people if you don’t have to honestly answer that you attend an evangelical church because hip, urban people will assume you think cavemen rode on dinosaurs? Another run-on. I CAN’T HELP IT; I’M JUST AS GOD MADE ME!

        To be honest, your article read to me as follows: “I want to be a Christian and have community with people of faith, but I REALLY don’t want people to think I’m not cool because I go to the same church as TOTALLY UNCOOL people, so I go to a church that is acceptable to the cool people I run into.”

        I don’t want to be uncharitable in my reading of your article, but I can’t figure out another way to read it. Please let me know if this isn’t the point at all. Thanks!

        • Fitz says:

          I appreciate your desire to not be uncharitable, though I should say that reducing my argument to considerations over coolness feels mildly uncharitable.

          That being said, I know there are many people who like to maintain evangelical is a theological category, but the reality is that due to the breadth of believers the title now applies to, it is impractical to think of it as such. Thus, my beliefs may still overlap with those of some people who identify as evangelical, as may my politics or any other number of characteristics. What I am eschewing here is merely the label evangelical. It has come to mean too many things, many of which I do not associate with my Christian faith.

          Thus, I don’t think we can even really talk about an evangelical church as a single entity with a set of beliefs with which I am either inline or out.

          This truly is a debate about labels and as such I can see how there is the temptation to reduce it even further. But, as I’ve said, I believe the semantics are important, and should not be treated as superficially as “cool” or not cool.

        • JDE says:

          I CAN’T HELP IT; I’M JUST AS GOD MADE ME!

          Yet if I, an atheist, were to use that sentence to justify my unbelief, you’d tell me I am “without excuse”.

          • Scott says:

            I’d sooner tell you that you’re without humor.

            But, in an honest attempt at an answer, I’d say that God has hardened your heart to His word for His own glory. I pray that He will soften it according to His will.

  2. Caleb Roberts says:

    Interesting article, Fitz (is that what you’re called around here?), especially considering that I too attend an Episcopal church here in Oklahoma City. However, I’d like some clarification your description of the nature of your’s and your peers’ abandonment of “evangelicalism”. Your article somewhat swings back and forth without explicit distinction between two “abandonments” that I see as principally different. On the one hand, you describe the “tentative converts from evangelical churches, disillusioned by the way their religious identity had been hijacked by the political right.” In this case, it would seem that there is not a substantial change in one’s actual beliefs, but instead a merely nominal change, one that desires innocence from the guilt by association that the mere label of “evangelical” can invoke. This would accord with your statement of how “…semantics are actually pretty important. I, like many of my peers, find it loathsome to have to qualify my Christian faith by constantly informing inquirers that I am not like “those” evangelicals. When I identify as Episcopal or Anglican, there’s a lot less explaining necessary.” Again, the abandonment of “evangelical” is in this case a semantic one that makes it easier for you to define yourself and doesn’t imply any necessary change in belief on its own. In other words, one could basically believe like an evangelical and just eschew the label to distance oneself from the Republican connotations.

    But then, in your conclusion, you describe a fellow parishioner who “was in the process of transitioning away from the faith tradition of her youth, and into one that she felt more fully aligned with God’s plan for his kingdom on earth.” This is a substantial abandonment of evangelicalism, one that is actually leaving most or all of its “-ologies” and “-osophies” for something essentially different. So my question is regarding the relationship between these two abandonments that you’ve described: (1) the nominal and superficial change that merely seeks to distance itself from the connotations of a label and (2) the substantial change in belief/ideas themselves that necessitates the shedding of a now inappropriate/inaccurate label (“evangelical”) of one’s beliefs.

    Thanks.

    • Fitz says:

      Thanks for the comment, and for your 2 questions. As you’ve correctly identified, I am very much concerned with the connotations of the label and it is certainly these that I am running from.

      As for a change in beliefs, this is a bit more complicated. My beliefs on a number of things have changed over the past decade from when I grew up in a pentecostal church. The problem is, at the same time, the beliefs associated with the term evangelical have also changed. That is, when I was growing up we didn’t call ourselves evangelical, but if I was to visit that church today, they probably do refer to themselves as such. The reason is that external forces got control of the word and no matter how hard evangelicals fight to maintain Bebbington’s (or anyone else’s) definition, it is irrelevant.

      See…more complicated. But I guess what I’m trying to say is, though my beliefs have changed it is not worth measuring the degree to which they changed against any kind of standard of evangelical beliefs, because it is too difficult to determine what those are.

  3. Matthew says:

    I’m kinda with the above posters; it seems as if you are at once making a big fuss over a small semantic matter because you want to intentionally create a semantic and legitimate division between yourself and the rest of the body of Christ. And this is because your theology is more well-thought-through and your politics are more nuanced. Isn’t that what the last generation did wrong?

    • Fitz says:

      I think it is a stretch (and a slightly evangelical-centric view of Christianity) to say that I am trying to create division between myself and the body of Christ. By joining the Episcopal church I have found myself cleaving more closely to the body of Christ than ever before. Evangelicals do not make up the whole of the body of Christ, and distancing myself from the term does not equal distancing myself from the body at all.

      • Matthew says:

        I certainly understand what you’re saying a little more than I did before, and I agree with you wholeheartedly that:

        (a) evangelicalism carries way too much baggage that must be jettisoned

        (b) labels matter

        (c) evangelicals and their concerns are not supposed to be the center of the universe

        But… I (and a bunch of other commenters, it seems) still get the vibe that by repudiating the label, you want to intentionally distance yourself and your beliefs from those of millions of other relatively sincere & thoughtful Christians, implying that you have it all together while those blundering evangelicals do not. As someone who grew up with way too much of the “we’re the real Christians who know what we’re doing” rhetoric floating around, it just hit too close to home. Does it at least make sense that you would leave that impression even if it wasn’t your intention?

        • Parker Hoye says:

          I believe I have the same question as this gentleman. Are you setting yourself opposed (or at least distanced) from those of us who have grown up in an “Evangelical” church? I associate that term not so much with the political and ideological connotations that the media, etc., has facilitated, but with the idea of a church that adheres to the Bible and who’s goal is to “know Christ and make Him known.” I supposed I stayed from Matthew’s point, but my main question is the same.

  4. Kathy says:

    What, exactly, do people believe happened when many Protestant churches became involved in politics? I could be wrong, but I trace this involvement to the abortion debate. In my denomination, most people were probably “Eisenhower Republicans”, but then Roe v. Wade happened, and Ronald Reagan happened, and all of a sudden it seemed like a lot of my fellow church members were listening to Rush Limbaugh and proudly claiming to be dittoheads.

    Over the last 10 years, I’ve had occasion to visit at least two dozen different churches in the denomination I grew up, and in all but two or three, there is a very clear equivalency that is drawn, between being a Christian and being a very conservative Republican. This equivalency did not exist in my denomination when I was growing up.

    Based on this admittedly extremely limited set of facts, I would suggest there is at least some validity to the idea that extreme political conservatism has hijacked my denomination. Perhaps others have had similar experiences.

  5. Gary Patterson says:

    Time passes and views evolve. Christianity is a Way of life that is dynamic. Are you now associated with an
    American Anglican group or with the now “officially liberal” American Episcopal group. The “Duncan Anglicans” would consider themselves
    Evangelical, but they are a very welcoming, multiracial, multiethnic, multivocic group. Good luck in your faith journey,
    whatever you call it.

  6. Jason Lewis says:

    Welcome to the Episcopal Church, Jonathan. I’ve been reading Patrol for a while now, and both your articles and David’s have often made me think, “Wow, the Episcopal Church would probably be a great fit for these guys.”

    I’m also an ex-Evangelical Episcopalian, and I got here after years of atheism and/or agnosticism because I didn’t think faith and reason were compatible, given my upbringing. Sometimes, it’s nice to be proved wrong.

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